- Associated Press - Tuesday, August 24, 2010

LOS ANGELES (AP) - A Mexican-born actress and her musician husband lied about their marriage to immigration officials so she could stay in the U.S., a federal prosecutor told prospective jurors Tuesday.

In his opening statement, Special Assistant U.S. Attorney James Left showed a picture of Fernanda Romero and Kent Ross on their wedding day but said the appearance was deceptive.

"There was a real ceremony but nothing else about it is real," Left said. "It was a sham marriage."

Romero, a singer, actress and model who has attained moderate fame in her homeland, and Ross, a musician and manager of a pizza delivery business, have each pleaded not guilty to charges of marriage fraud and making false statements.

If convicted, they could each face a maximum prison sentence of five years.

The couple sat next to each other wearing black suits and wedding rings on their left forefingers.

Prosecutors claimed that since their nuptials in June 2005, they have maintained separate homes, dated other people and repeatedly lied on immigration forms and to federal agents about their relationship.

Left said testimony will be presented from people who say Romero and Ross told them the marriage was a fraud.

The government claims Ross was paid $5,000 to marry Romero so she could obtain permanent residency, an assertion defense attorneys deny.

Defense attorneys said the couple has an unconventional yet passionate relationship and are still married. Attorney Vicki Podberesky showed jurors several photos of Romero and Ross together, describing them as "looking like a young couple in love."

Podberesky said the government’s case stemmed from a spurned lover of Romero who became angry and made the allegation of the false marriage when she tried to break off the affair.

Prosecutors said the photographs of Romero and Ross were staged. When agents visited both of their homes in October 2007, neither had any photos of each other on display, prosecutors said.

Marriage fraud cases are often handled in administrative immigration proceedings, but prosecutors decided to pursue criminal charges against Romero and Ross because there was overwhelming evidence the marriage was fake.

Romero was a member of the Mexican pop group Fryzzby and had a bit role in the 2009 film "Drag Me to Hell." She has been living in the U.S. off-and-on for a decade.

In an unusual move, opening statements were delivered before a jury was selected. The trial is expected to last four days.


AP Entertainment Writer Anthony McCartney contributed to this report.

(This version CORRECTS title of federal prosecutor. )

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